"It's Elementary My Dear Watson" When IBM Computer Becomes 'Jeopardy' Contestant

This is a geek alert for Jeopardy fans, young and old. Alex Trebek and America will be given a special treat starting February 14 when IBM's supercomputer "Watson" is pitted against two of the quiz show's all-time winners  - Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. It's guaranteed to be a ratings winner for the venerable game show, which has been on the air since 1964. So, let the games begin, and shall the best man ... erh, computer win.

While Jennings has won the most consecutive games (74 in total), Rutter is Jeopardy's highest-earning player, winning more than $3.25 million during several appearances in 2002 and 2005. Educationally, they differ markedly. Jennings holds degrees in computer science and English, from Brigham Young University and the Seoul Foreign School, while Rutter who did complete high school is a John Hopkins University dropout.

Neither one of them, alone or together could draw the type of excitement that is building as the result of IBM Watson's guest appearance. As Jon Iwata, IBM senior vice president of marketing stated, "I'll be rooting for Watson but a little part of me will be rooting for the humans, too." 

In this YouTube video, Jennings and Rutter are allowed to compete with Watson in a preview round that was filmed January 13. As you can see, while Watson doesn't have all the answers, he certainly gives Jeopardy's top whiz kids a run for their money. (note how human Watson sounds, and how well he knows how to play the game).

It has taken several years to perfect Watson to the point where he learned to understand the subtlety of 'word play,' irony and riddles that are built into many of Jeopardy's clues. "After four years, our scientific team believes that Watson is ready for this challenge based on its ability to rapidly comprehend what the Jeopardy clue is asking, analyze the information it has access to, come up with precise answers, and develop an accurate confidence in its response," Dr. David Ferrucci, head of the Watson research team, said in a statement.

To prepare, Watson has played more than 50 "sparring games" against former Jeopardy champions. The computer also took and passed the same Jeopardy test administered to all potential contestants.  In this video, Harry Friedman, executive producer of Jeopardy said when IBM first approached the show, producers were intrigued but were also concerned about it being viewed as a stunt or gimmick.

So where does Watson go from here, particularly if it succeeds as the champion in this match-up? Well, number one, he will be earning a cool one milion dollars, which IBM says they will donate to charity. "Beyond our excitement for the match itself, our team is very motivated by the possibilities that Watson's breakthrough computing capabilities hold for building a smarter planet and helping people in their business tasks and personal lives," said David Ferruci, head of the Watson research team.

In a PCMag report, IBM said the technology used by Watson could be helpful in areas like healthcare, to help accurately diagnose patients, to improve online self-service help desks, to provide tourists and citizens with specific information regarding cities, or prompt customer support via phone.

Watson is powered by an IBM POWER7 server, which is optimized to handle the massive number of tasks that Watson must perform at rapid speeds, IBM said. The machine also has a number of proprietary technologies that can handle concurrent tasks and data while analyzing information in real time. Real-time, eh? Wonder if Watson will be opening a Twitter or Facebook account any time soon.

Sorry - I spoke too soon... as, our dear Watson already has that covered.

UPDATE  - January 14 - DallasNews.com  - At the end of the first day of a three-day competition, Watson and Rutter were tied at $5,000 each, while Jennings brought up the rear at $2,000.-

UPDATE: January 15 - - Watson had a total of $36,681 going into Tuesday's Final Jeopardy! question, to Rutter's $5,400 and Jennings' $2,400.

But when it came time to answer Final Jeopardy question — "This U.S. city's largest airport is named for a famous World War II hero, its second largest for a famous World War II battle." — Watson inexplicably answered, "What is Toronto?????" (sic), instead of the correct answer, "What is Chicago?"

Jennings and Rutter both answered correctly. Jennings wagered his total winnings to that point, bringing him to $4,800; Rutter wagered $5,000, bringing him to $10,400. Watson wagered just $947, though, dropping his two-day total to a possibly insurmountable $35,734.


UPDATE: January 16 - TechCrunch - In a victory for science, Watson, the IBM-developed artificial intelligence, has indeed won. The final scores were $77,147 for Watson, $24,000 for Ken Jennings, and $21,600 for Brad Rutter.

Random TwitPic - so that's why they call him a "Killer Computer"!!!